PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday that secret talks with the country's political opposition have resolved most of their differences, and the two sides may soon reach an agreement for the opposition to end its boycott of parliament.
Hun Sen said that a single "small point" — which he did not specify — remains unresolved between his ruling Cambodian People's People Party and opposition leader Sam Rainsy's Cambodia National Rescue Party, and that they might reach an agreement before the Cambodian New Year in the middle of this month. He said he had assigned Interior Minister Sar Kheng to negotiate the last point with Sam Rainsy.
The opposition is challenging the results of a general election last July that they allege was rigged by the ruling party. They initially demanded an independent investigation into the polls, and refused to take their seats in parliament when the government would not agree to the probe. They have been protesting for several months and demanding that Hun Sen step down and call new elections.
Sam Rainsy told reporters that his party had been taking part in secret talks, and that it would cancel plans for a massive demonstration if an agreement was reached.
He said his party remained adamant that a special commission be established to pursue electoral reform and an early general election.
The official results of the last election extended Hun Sen's 28-year rule by giving his party 68 seats in the National Assembly, compared to 55 for the Cambodian National Rescue Party — a significant boost over the 29 seats the opposition had held in the previous parliament.
The opposition protests, along with labor actions for a higher minimum wage for garment factory workers, put the government under unaccustomed pressure. It resulted in violence in January, when the authorities used force to quash the workers' actions. In turn, Hun Sen warned the labor unions, which have close links to the opposition, to keep out of politics. Most public demonstrations in the capital were banned, though the ban was loosely enforced.
While touting the possibility of an agreement, Hun Sen also warned Sam Rainsy that he faces the possibility of arrest for allegedly instigating labor violence and insulting the country's constitutional monarch, King Norodom Sihamoni, by sending him an open letter calling the convening of parliament illegal. The king formally approves the new parliament.
Hun Sen, known for his canny and tough political maneuvering, appeared to be using the threat as a bargaining point in the negotiations with the opposition.